Monday, April 07, 2014

The Importance of an Art Program

These are my remarks at JPII's National Art Honor Society Induction on April 7, 2014. 

One of the great temptations for school principals—and I think we see this in too many of our schools across our country—is to seek uniformity. Many of us believe that if we can get the right curriculum, or discern the right set of practices, or impose the right standards, we can take that template, lay it over our schools, and expect a good result, regardless of the circumstances of that school or the students it serves. One size fits all.

And I have to tell you, in managing a complex place like a JPII, with many different constituencies, many different areas of interests, many different programs ranging from athletics to the fine arts, it’s very tempting to think like that here at JPII, too—to use this "template" way of thinking as a management tool for the purposes of efficiency, making sure that everything lines up neatly. 

In Robert Bolt’s play Man for All Seasons, Oliver Cromwell, trying to convince Thomas More that he should publicly support the divorce of King Henry, says that when it comes down to it, it’s a matter of “administrative convenience.” The bottom line, he tells More, is that if the King of England wants a divorce, he’s going to get it. It’s just a question of whether he can get it easily or with difficulty, so their job as loyal subjects is to make it as “administratively convenient” as possible.   I think about that phrase often—it’s very tempting to make decisions as an administrator out of convenience—to insist on order where messiness is probably called for, to write policy that trumps discretionary decision-making, to prioritize efficiency over persons.

An antidote to that way of thinking, in my opinion, is a robust art program. Good art programs train students to see what is common to most of us in an uncommon way, to take photos from a unique angle, to use lighting in a manner to communicate an idea or a mood, or to paint a portrait in such a way as to communicate something that others rarely see. Good art programs should cause students to instinctively recoil against uniformity and instead help them see variety, difference, uniqueness, and splendor in all of the subtle variations and nuances in the world around us.

If we do our art programs well here, and I think that we do, it should make my job as principal more difficult, because it trains YOU as students to think differently, to be different, and to insist that a school like JPII is broad enough, inclusive enough, and creative enough to accommodate those differences. 

I hope, by your induction into the NAHS tonight, that you will embrace that responsibility—to make JPII a place full of color, literally and figuratively. In so doing, JPII will continue to be a joyful place, imbued with possibility, with intrigue and with mystery—not just for you, but for generations of students who come after you.

Congratulations on your induction tonight. Your school is very proud of you.

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